Physician-Assisted Suicide Legalized in DC

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DC Mayor Muriel Bowser Speaks at a Protest against Congressional Disapproval Resolutions
Source: Peter Jamison and Aaron C. Davis, “House Committee Moves to Block D.C.’s Assisted-Suicide Law,” washingtonpost.com, Feb. 13, 2017

On Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, DC became the seventh jurisdiction in the United States to legalize physician-assisted suicide (PAS), following Colorado (2016), California (2015), Vermont (2013), Montana (2009), Washington (2008), and Oregon (1994).

Death with Dignity Act of 2015 (later renamed to reflect the 2016 passage), was introduced by DC Councilmember Mary Cheh (D) on Jan. 14, 2015 and signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on Dec. 19, 2016. The law is based on Oregon’s law, as are most PAS laws in the United States. It legalizes a process that authorizes physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally-ill adult residents of DC who want the option to end their lives. Before residents can obtain the lethal medication, they must meet residency and other requirements, be examined by two different doctors, and make two oral requests and one written requests for the aid-in-dying medication.

DC has “home rule” and its residents are able to govern their local affairs. However, because DC is not a state, the Constitution gives Congress jurisdiction to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever” over the capital. Because of this provision, all DC laws are subject to a 30-working-day review by Congress. During the review, members of Congress may object to a law and call a vote of the full House and Senate. If both the House and Senate vote to overturn the law, the resolution is presented to the President to sign. The President’s signature would then nullify the law.

DC’s Death with Dignity Act was submitted to Congress on Jan. 6, 2017. Representative Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Senator James Lankford (R-OK) submitted disapproval resolutions to the House and Senate respectively on Jan. 12, 2017 that would bar the law. On Feb. 13, 2017 Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), who spearheaded the effort in Congress against the law, and the House Oversight Committee, which he chairs, voted 22-14 to bar the law. However, the resolutions did not come up for a full vote of the House or the Senate within 30 working days, making the law effective as of Feb. 18, 2017.

Chaffetz and former US Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), in a joint opinion piece, stated: “Rather than facilitate suicides, the government’s role should be to prevent them… We should not now or ever take steps to help facilitate, encourage or tacitly accept measures that prematurely end lives.”

Compassion and Choices, an advocacy organization in favor of legalizing PAS, stated: “Today we are celebrating that the District of Columbia has become the 7th jurisdiction to authorize medical aid in dying for terminally ill people. The advocacy of D.C. residents and local officials is what won this victory. Democracy conquered the personal mindsets of paternalistic politicians whose opinions should not get in the way of people getting the medical relief they want and need.”


Sources:

Jason Chaffetz and Jim DeMint, “D.C. Is Disregarding the Sanctity of Life. Congress Must Act,” washingtonpost.com, Jan. 27, 2017

Compassion and Choices, “District of Columbia Becomes 7th Jurisdiction to Authorize Medical Aid in Dying,” compassionandchoices.org, Feb. 17, 2017

Congress.gov, “H.J.Res.27 – Disapproving the Action of the District of Columbia Council in Approving the Death with Dignity Act of 2016,” congress.gov (accessed Feb. 21, 2017)

Congress.gov, “S.J.Res.4 – A Joint Resolution Disapproving the Action of the District of Columbia Council in Approving the Death with Dignity Act of 2016,” congress.gov (accessed Feb. 21, 2017)

Council of the District of Columbia, “B21-0038 – Death with Dignity Act of 2015,” dccouncil.us (accessed Feb. 21, 2017)

Council of the District of Columbia, “DC Home Rule,” dccouncil.us (accessed Feb. 21, 2017)

Death with Dignity, “District of Columbia,” Death with Dignity website (accessed Feb. 21, 2017)

Kerry Picket, “DC’s Assisted Suicide Law Goes into Effect over the Weekend,” dailycaller.com, Feb. 17, 2017

Bradford Richardson, “D.C. Physician-Assisted Suicide Law Goes into Effect,” washingtontimes.com, Feb. 18, 2017

Sophie Tatum, “House Committee Moves to Overturn DC Assisted Suicide Law,” cnn.com, Feb. 15, 2017